Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Records I Listened To Today

There will be more music and book writing here for a while, and less movies and TV -- I canceled the cable. Baseball and its cheating, lying players, owners, reporters, TV announcers, managers, and clubhouse boys has lost its appeal on TV for me. I'm still going to read a billion local teams' hometown sports pages every day because I'm addicted to written information, but spending long stretches focusing on or thinking solely about baseball mostly make me angry or sad. I haven't been to a game since April or a Rockies game at all; if I find myself in the Texaplex before October (and I may yet) you may see me shamelessly leaping on the Rangers' playoff bandwagon. (One silver lining, if you're inclined to reach, about the steroid era is that I no longer feel in the least bad about bailing out on the Cubs, A's, Brewers, White Sox, Astros, and Rockies in that order.) It's pleasant that the Rockies are again among the seven competitive teams in the sleepy NL, but it's hard to give them much of a playoff advancement shot with a 1-2-3 of Jason Marquis, Aaron Cook, and Jorge De La Rosa. There's no reason their staff should be this cheap, and no reason Matt Holliday should be a Cardinal now, other than that their rotten greedy owners prefer to cash their revenue-sharing checks and eke out a miserly profit with the park 40% full rather than investing in championship-level talent.

It made it a little harder to sign the paperwork, as I stood at the local Comcast office handing over my two DVR's and massive bundle of wiring, that none other than the truly dreamy Troy Tulowitzki was smiling at me from behind the clerk's desk, encouraging me to execute a Triple Play as he did in his rookie season. Asked and answered: John Valentin is the only other guy to have an unassisted triple play and a cycle under his belt.

Lorca, Tim Buckley The record guides universally praise the followup Starsailor, but since I scrupulously collected Buckley pere's digital catalogue and particularly since I began gathering the albums once again in LP form I've always returned most to Lorca. It's Buckley's most abstract album but amazingly soulful for free jazz, and while the grooves are loose the lyrics (at least on the badass second side) are more decipherable and linear than the other songs from the second major period of Tim Buckley's career. I personally think Buckley's early, affected folk records are a bit overrated and his late-period, desperate lounge lizard style is a little underappreciated, but it's clear when he was at his peak. One of the reasons every one of Buckley's 1968-70 studio and live recordings are all of very high quality is the way the singer/guitarist kept the same lead player (the massively talented Lee Underwood) and percussionist (Carter C.C. Collins, also a conductor and arranger) with him but rotated bass players; this gives each album and live date a distinctiveness as the core ensemble reacts to the shifting rhythmic center, particularly since Buckley wasn't using full drums at all at the time. John Balkin, who played electric and acoustic bass on Lorca, isn't as showy as some of the more famous players Buckley featured. He tends to repeat basic figures with slight variations in time and sustain, which works well at keeping the listener anchored on some very slow, dreamy tunes ("Driftin'" is the best example on the LP). What hooks there are on this album are basslines.

Double Nickels on the Dime, The Minutemen One of those albums I discovered relatively early on in my musical apprenticeship and have fallen in love with again anew every few years on the regular. I don't tend to pick up an instrument and play along to records; listening and playing are separate activities for me. I listen to a song until I've internalized it, and later I might pick up a guitar or bass and start trying to work out the chords. But Mike Watt's joyous, wisecracking bass playing on Double Nickels on the Dime is totally irresistible. Watt's lines are incredibly creative and original but at the same time they follow a rock-solid, jazz-based musical theory that's easy to follow the logic of while being quite difficult to really get all the nuances of. In short, they're worthy of study, and after poking at it for about 15 years off and on now, I can play pretty much the whole first LP. If I keep this up, I will be able to start an awesome Double Nickels tribute band by the time I'm 50. I already have a drummer!

A New Tide, Gomez It's one thing to keep putting out great album year after year, but Gomez are wholly unique, at least among contemporary bands. Since their first, the quite accessible Bring It On, which struck me at first as kind of shallow and imitative until I got to see them live and appreciate the originality of their subtle three-guitar approach, they've made five more records. Three of those five, I initially disliked and was disappointed by. Each and every one of those, I came around on, each time more dramatically than the last. That's a pretty odd phenomenon -- I can't think of any other band whose work I initially hated two-thirds of, then came to love almost unconditionally. I can't think of any other band whose work I initially hated two-thirds of that turned out to be worth the time investment to "come around" on. So in that sense, A New Tide is a total disappointment. It's the first Gomez record since Split the Difference, and only the second overall, that I've liked right away. It's baited with some of the most graciously hooky songs they've penned since the debut ("If I Ask You Nicely," "Airstream Driver") and the band consistently pairs its best, most expressive singer, Ben Ottewell, with the most abstract and laptop-glitchy experimental tunes. Some of the chanting, rapping, and intoning by Gomez's lesser throats, Ian Ball and Tom Gray, initially turned some (including me!) off to In Our Gun, the last Gomez album to really throw itself confidently into electronic music. Here the songs are paired well to singer, with Gray's homespun baritone nailing the doo-wop folk confection "Nicely" and Ball's snotty monotone suiting "Driver" and the well-executed "Win Park Slope." Gomez are a band I've made the effort to convert people to the cause of with some success over the years. I'm glad to have fellow fans who are also musicians, like my girlfriend and former bandmates, to discuss the group with because their richness is so very unassuming. (Jim DeRogatis, the condescending Chicago Sun-Times critic, called them "sleepy" and unworthy of the main stage in his Lollapalooza writeup.) Their aesthetic is that of a jam band, but they don't jam. Each guitarist has his own idiosyncratic style, and rather than trying to mesh the sounds, they each kind of plug away and trust that their understated bassist and polyrhythmic maniac of a drummer will make some sense out of it. (I saw Ben, Tom, and Ian as a trio once and was sorely disappointed, none of them is much of a rhythm player and huddled around with acoustics they look hijacked. As a solo performer, by contrast, Ian Ball is terrific and animated.) Gomez couldn't exist if audio technology hadn't evolved to the point where people could plug in and practice, loudly, with a mixture of electric and amplified acoustic guitars and have the sound field be coherent. This is a fairly recent development -- acoustic guitars are a nightmare to amplify.

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